How are you? No, really, how are you?

By: Caitlin Pinsof, MA

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

― Maya Angelou

One of the primary issues that brings couples into therapy is communication problems. Each person feels that their partner has shut them out of their inner world, and often, both people have become afraid to be vulnerable with each other. This results in a sort of stand off, where partners attempt to interact with each other in a way that avoids real emotional intimacy, which leads to further feelings of isolation and disconnection. Inevitably, this becomes a vicious cycle, that pushes individuals further and further away from each other each time the cycle finishes and begins again.

So, what is emotional intimacy and why do we avoid it, especially when we most need it? Emotional intimacy can be defined as a closeness between two people where there is reciprocal empathy, meaning each person attempts to see, feel, and understand the experience of the other. Emotional intimacy is created through vulnerability, which is the experience of feeling safe enough with another human being to let your guard down, allowing yourself to be truly seen by another person, with your flaws and all. The term vulnerable originates from the Latin word vulnus, or wound, and Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word is “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” Doesn’t sound too fun, does it?

The fear of being vulnerable is often one of the primary blocks to emotional intimacy, and consequently, effective and meaningful communication. That fear increases tenfold if we’ve been emotionally wounded by our partner in the past, and, if those wounds feel unresolved, we grow to see further vulnerability as a hot flame that will burn us if we get too close. So, how can we avoid becoming emotionally distant from our partner in the first place? And, how can we recapture emotional intimacy once we’ve lost it?

There is once principle that is essential to truly loving another human being and that is being more interested in knowing them as they truly are, than creating a story of them that serves who you are. When this principle is present in a relationship, vulnerability becomes easier and more natural, because people sense they can be who they truly are, with their successes and their failures. It is impossible to practice this principle all of the time, but when it is present, vulnerability and emotional intimacy become far easier.

In a romantic relationship, there is a shared emotional bank account, similar to a shared financial bank account. If a family or partnership does not monitor and care for their financial life there tend to be various problems that arise related to money. If partners neglect to monitor and care for their shared emotional bank account, problems related to emotional intimacy occur. Here are a few tips for adding to or replenishing the emotional bank account you and your partner share…

  • How are you? No, really, how are you?
    • Once a week, take 30 minutes to sit down with your partner, and ask them how they are really doing. Most of the time when we are asked how were doing, we respond with “I’m fine,” an answer that often does not actually reflect how we are really feeling. Each person should take 15 minutes to tell their partner how their really feeling. Remove the expectation of resolution from the conversation, it is not about your partner fixing what is wrong, it is just about simply hearing what is really happening with one another.
  • Discover your Emotional Intimacy Road Map
    • Emotional intimacy is experienced differently by everyone. Your partner may find that spending time with you makes them feel close to you, while you may find that regular verbal reminders of love and affection from your partner make you feel close to them. Each partner should take some time on their own to list three things that help them to feel emotionally safe and close to another person, then take some time to share them with one another.
  • Discuss Emotional Intimacy in Therapy
    • If you are in couple’s counseling, discuss emotional intimacy with your therapist. Be sure to explore the way past emotional wounds may still be present or unresolved in the partnership. Sometimes, if the emotional distance has grown too big between two people, it is nearly impossible to bridge the gap without the help of an objective third party, especially at first. This is when couple’s counseling can be immensely helpful to develop the ability to tend to and to resolve issues related to emotional intimacy in your romantic relationship.

Remember to care for the emotional well being of your relationship as you care for the financial well being of your relationship and you will be sure to cultivate and maintain newfound closeness and love between you and your partner.